As I’ve mentioned before, understanding body language is very important to me and my profession. I work with first impressions and know how important this is in portraiture and in life. In person first impressions are just as important and is often sealed in the greeting. This first form of contact can set the tone for the interaction or future of the relationship. And, so I am very aware of body language and the physiology behind it from the onset of meeting someone. The handshake generally forms the first piece of contact between people, and so I thought it would be relevant to explore this age-old way of greeting others.
The handshake dates back to times so distant that the true origin has become blurred. Some believe the handshake started in order to show a peaceful gesture i.e. no weapons - no fight. Others swear that it was seen as a sign of alliance - if you pressed your flesh to someone else's, you were seen to be on the same side of the table as them. The pumping action was seen as a way to dislodge the other person's hidden weapons.
Today, the handshake is often viewed with mixed feelings and intentioned, and in different cultures have different approaches. We might be weary to make contact in wintertime when you hear a stuffy nose, or might go in for a hug from the word go. Sometimes a fist pump is the way to go. In either way, it is important to understand the handshake in your culture and others to show the right amount of respect when meeting people for the first time.
America and South Africa - simple firm handshake, no lingering
The old Xhosa way is to clasp hands, now you would place your left hand somewhere on your own forearm to show respect. You will see some people will receive things in the same way, usually then under the arm while a handshake will be place on top of the arm. They can also be extended in a twist of the hand forward and back, ending with snapping the thumbs.
Botswana - the local handshake has multiple steps that should be completed as follows: Clasp right hands, shake up and down once, interlock thumbs, raise your arms to a right angle, grasp hands again, then release to a relaxed “shake” position before letting the other person’s hand go.
Europe - a warm handshake, eye contact, and a possible shake on leaving too (of course, if you're in some European countries, you may get a kiss on both cheeks too)
Middle East - right hand only as the left is seen as unclean. Then a light handshake, no pump, bowed head and greet the eldest first.
Malaysia - A light shake followed by brining your own hands to your chest and nod slightly to symbolize goodwill and an open heart.
Turkey & United Arab Emirates - long hand-holding shake and for the latter, no across sex greeting
Morocco - only handshake same sex as yourself
Australia - woman don't shake hands with each other - woman to man requires the woman to reach out first
Germany - It is one pump and your done.
BE CLEAR - It may seem silly, but very often one cannot tell whether someone is reaching out their hand to shake yours or are they just making a small movement. Be clear that you want to shake their hand. Keep your hand open, thumb pointing up and other fingers pointing in the direction of the receiver.
HOLD STILL - Once you're there, hold still. Give the receiver a moment to recognise that you are wanting to shake hands.
USE YOUR WORDS - Pairing the handshake with a verbal greeting will help to make it clear you're going in. You could say, "Hi, nice to meet you." or "Hello, Im James."
MAKE EYE CONTACT - This will differ from one culture to the other but generally make eye contact when reaching out your hand to greet.
BE AWARE OF THE PRESSURE - You don't want to be squeezing too hard and you don't want to leave them thinking of a limp fish when you extract your hand. Think about hugging their hand with yours. Clasp your hand around theirs just a fraction, wait a moment, and then let go. Again keep in consideration that different culture expect different pressure.
AVOID THE WETNESS - If you have sweaty hands or have just washed them, be sure to wipe them off way before the reach. It can look odd if you are rubbing your hands up and down your pants while they are waiting for you.
PUMP ONCE - It can be annoying if you pump their hand up and down too many times. One pump is more than enough and don't be too harsh with that pump either.
NOT THE SHAKE
In many countries first encounters are not sealed by the handshake.
In Tibet sticking out your tongue use to be a tradition for monks showing they come in peace but since this greeting became common.
Air kissing also became standard in Spain, Portugal and other countries. One kiss would be enough for them but the Russians would go to 3 or 4 kisses.
Hugging is often used as a greeting in America saying 'Hi' or 'Bye' to one another. Whereas in Paris they believe hugging is too intimate and will only hug close friends. They usually greet by kissing with their cheeks no matter the gender. The same goes for Rome: they kiss on each other's cheeks.
In Bangkok waving at a friend especially when a girl greets a guy is a form of greeting.
In New Zealand, because air kissing seems to intimate, they greet by rubbing faces or noses together calling it " sharing of breath", it's a classic way of saying "Hello".
In Zimbabwe they use a different style of greeting by clapping their hands but theirs different ways to it like men clap with their fingers and woman with their hands, there's different angles to how they clap their hands though. The same with Mozambique they clap their hands three times before saying "Hello".
India they put their palms together in a prayer position at heart level before bowing. Thailand the higher your hands is positioned the more respect your showing. Japan, the deeper you bow the more respect is being shown. Men bow with their hands on their sides, woman with their hands on their thighs and the younger ones bow with their heads almost like a nod.
Being aware of cultures and the impression you make on first encounters can be an advantage to secure a successful and respectful encounter.